Joe Budden/Saigon Squash Beef: What Have We Learned?

“… If I may interject/ Rap these days is like a pain up in the neck/ Cornier and phonier than a play fight/”

—MF Doom, “Benzie Box,” The Mouse and the Mask (2005).

“What if I was another corny rapper?/”

—Jadakiss ft. Nas, “What If,” The Last Kiss (2009).

“Rapper-jocks need to put a sock in they chatterbox/ Rappers like the gay club strip tease/With hippies on the yip saying ‘hey, bub grip these’/”

—DOOM, “Microwave Mayo,” Born Like This (2009).

I never took the Joe Budden vs. Saigon battle—beef—seriously. Not because it failed to impress or inspire me (though it did), but I had a hard time in identifying its logic. It always confronted me as a forced and unfortunate circumstance, rather than a genuine, inevitable lyrical onslaught—the kind we saw with Canibus and L.L. (which, by the way, Bis won—quite handily, too), or Jay-z vs. Nas (which… I’ll leave it up to you—the reader). Nas. It struck me as a desperate reincarnation of the Tupac vs. Biggie saga—albeit less thrilling and theatrical. Make no mistake: Tupac and Biggie were never lyrical adversaries. They were both pawns, used by record label Kings—Executives—and each seemed to stumble upon this understanding at a time too late.

It was as though the two legends were unsure, till the very last minute, of which role the other was playing. In an age when every rapper with a nearing album release date is scrambling through the Hip-Hop artist directory, looking for someone to pick a fight with, like school kids, the Budden/Saigon clash failed to strike the chord of uniqueness—even at the incipient.. I call it “unfortunate,” because—it was. I’ll explain.

From the outset, it’s was quite obvious that Saigon and Joe Budden are a match made in Heaven (Ghetto Heaven, perhaps). Both can spit, and are equally vicious lyrical assassins, in their own right. Both are incredibly talented artists, but without the material evidence and exposure to corroborate their talents. Joe Budden and Saigon both rose from relative obscurity to international stardom, through hit singles from mixtapes/albums—(Pump It Up, Joe Budden; Say Yes, Da Yard Father 1 – The Best of Saigon)—without successfully breaking the glass ceiling of mainstream appeal.

Both have, over time, employed socially-conscious undertones in their songs, without coming across as preachy or pretentious. Both have also been caught in between the crosshairs of label politics, and had albums stalled for months and years, as a result. This frustration has led both artists to embark on self-imposed sabbaticals from music-making, while venturing into different fields—short-lived, as they were. As previously mentioned, both have also attained enormous success in the underground community, whilst being overlooked, predominantly, by Hip-Hop’s mainstream listening audience.

With this seemingly endless list of similarities, it was understandable when the thrust of competition and rivalry catapulted both artists to, for the first time in long time, Hip-Hop’s center of attention. One could certainly see how this rare exposure successfully knocked off their focus and discipline, although, there seemed to be no justification for the escalating war of words which, soon enough, began to gain decibel in tonality and aggression.

With threats against family members introduced into the mix, it became obvious that neither of the two artists had any control over the direction the battle was beginning to veer in. Proposals of boxing matches soon confirmed how less a Hip-Hop battle it was, and how more of an ego-trip it appeared to be. Most critical listeners are aware that Hip-Hop artists have a tendency to suffer, greatly, from insufficient self-esteem—which affords their egos enormous opportunities to engage in thoughtless acts. The recent clash between Budden and Saigon’s camp was no different.

Saigon confirmed this in an interview with Sirius Radio’s Angela Yee, last month. With Joe Budden calling in to officially bury the hatchet, Saigon confessed of how “stupid” he felt “through the whole sh**, because that’s not my lane.” He continued:

I’m actually opposed to doing that sh**… On my real album, I got a whole song on why that sh** looks stupid to the public, for us to just tear each other down… We finally make it to a situation where we’re getting out [of] the ghetto, and we’re going to find a reason to try to knock each other down. And it’s a reflection of our community… It’s so easy to try to pull somebody else down, when you see them trying to get ahead.

Saigon also rebuked “the masses,” who, as he put it, would “rather hear about one of us causing physical harm to one another,” than encouraging a strong display of Black unity. Is it too strong to infer that this mass group of people is largely composed of the Hip-Hop media?

That would be a curious assumption, as the Hip-Hop media has been remarkably silent on the reconciliation between Budden and Saigon. I wonder if this has anything to do with its role as provocateurs, during the thick of the fight. Perhaps our media’s giddiness, over two grown men airing out their frustration by attacking each other, revealed a troubling truth about how far we haven’t come since the East vs. West non-wars of the ‘90s. What we do know for sure, is that there are those (writers, label executives, journalists, bankers, agents, informants, govt. officials, listeners, critics, apologists, etc.) who would always find avenues to exploit the competition-centered atmosphere of Hip-Hop, by transforming artistic adversaries into enemies. Canibus once rapped, on “Poet Laureate II” (Rip the Jacker), that “Every warrior has an axe to bury/ But he has to learn to discern between enemy and adversary.”

In a newly-surfaced 2002 interview, Queensbridge veteran, Nas is featured as a one-man wrecking crew against artists, DJs, executives, radio stations, and the Hip-Hop industry at-large. Artists are being “used” as slaves, by corporations, to generate revenue, Nas said. He insisted that his colleagues “got to have balls, and got to let these guys know.” If not, these guys would “take control, and try to say that they have all the power, and… dictate what we [Hip-Hop artists] have to do.”

Nas remonstrated against the ventriloquists who use rappers as puppets and dummies, with ulterior motives of commercial profit: “My fight is a big fight. My fight is against any power structure that’s going to try and hold back freedom of speech. And that fight ain’t over yet… I’m not sitting back, letting the clowns run the rap game. Stop. Today is a new day.” In a separate interview with WBLS’ then-air personality, Deja Vu, around the same time, Nas boldly declared that, “Rappers are slaves.”

If seven years after his comments, we can’t unequivocally contend that these “slaves” are now free, what lies ahead for our beloved culture?

Tolu Olorunda is a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com.

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